Challenger Q&A: Harris Closing In On Top 100 With Stockton Crown
Lloyd Harris keeps racking up the achievements as the 2018 season rolls along. And the South African #NextGenATP is pressing towards yet another: the Top 100 in the ATP Rankings.
Harris dominated the field in Stockton, California, to claim his second ATP Challenger Tour title on Sunday, defeating fellow #NextGenATP Marc Polmans 6-2, 6-2 in the championship. Two months ago, he became the first South African to lift a trophy in five years. Now, the 21-year-old proved that he's not done with just one.
The Cape Town native dropped just one set all week, earning impressive wins over an in-form Christopher Eubanks, top seed Jordan Thompson and eighth seed Polmans. He joins as exclusive club in becoming the third #NextGenATP with multiple titles this year, in addition to Jaume Munar and Michael Mmoh.
And most importantly, Harris is up to a career-high No. 113 in the ATP Rankings and rises four spots to 10th in the ATP Race to Milan. Having resided in 20th place prior to his triumph in Lexington, he is now firmly in contention to qualify for the Next Gen ATP Finals.
Behind a ruthless run that has included a pair of Challenger titles, a successful US Open qualifying campaign and a first Top 50 win over Gael Monfils at the Chengdu Open, Harris has fast become one of the hottest players in pro tennis. He's showing no signs of slowing down as the season nears its conclusion.
🇿🇦 @lloydharris63 is the champion in Stockton, claiming his second #ATPChallenger title of the year with a 62 62 win over Polmans.— ATP Challenger Tour (@ATPChallenger) October 8, 2018
Joins Jaume Munar and Michael Mmoh as #NextGenATP with multiple 🏆 in 2018 pic.twitter.com/YSnqY9k0yl
Harris sat down with broadcaster Mike Cation following his victory on Sunday...
Lloyd, it was an impressive performance, especially considering how windy it was. We were looking at sustained winds of over 20 miles per hour. How did you stay focused in those conditions?
Thank you very much first of all. I came out and saw the wind and knew it was going to be a very tricky match for both of us. I think I like to dominate with my serve, but it was almost impossible to get any free points. I knew I was going to have to be smart with my game and from the start I was zoning in on him with every single point. I was focused and I played the big points well and got some breaks early. I looked to hold my serve and keep the momentum going. It was a good performance.
From the start, it looked like you were willing to take chances. Where does that confidence come from and how has it been building through this incredible year for you?
I was willing to take the risk, whether it was break point or 15/0. I knew I was going to take the initiative in most of the points and try to be as aggressive as possible with my forehands and backhands. I feel really confident out there and I've played a lot of matches this year. Getting a lot of wins in the last couple of months has really built my confidence up nicely. Last week I had the biggest win of my career (d. Monfils at Chengdu Open) and that really helps for sure. I'm just playing very good tennis at the moment.
For a lot of players, when they have that first monumental win on the ATP World Tour, find it hard come back down to a Challenger the next week. And especially in a different continent. How did you do that?
There was a bunch of things that happened in Chengdu. I got my biggest win and I lost 7-6 in the third the match after. Then, the 15-hour time difference. It was a tricky turnaround for sure. Luckily, I had 3-4 days to settle down and get used to the conditions. But I just came out there and did what I had to do in each match. I got better as the tournament progressed. I'm happy with the tennis I played for sure.
Now you're No. 113 in the ATP Rankings and you're in touching distance to the Top 100 for the first time in your career. How do you maintain this form without getting over confident?
The key for me is to keep improving my game and doing the hard work. I feel like if I keep doing that, the tennis will stay good. As long as I keep a positive mindset, I'll play better and have strong results in the future. I'm not expecting anything and giving it my all every day.
What are the points of improvement that you're working on, in the back end of the year? Are there specific things or are you just coasting now at a good level and want to continue with these results?
I'm constantly trying to work on things. It's a mixture of tweaking small things in my game, like moving forward and working on my volley game, and also the transition from playing defence to being more offensive. Just the small things and I felt that it's really paying off. After a great run in the U.S. summer, I went home and took 2.5 weeks to think about how I want to improve and what I want to do with my game. I've come back even stronger and am playing even better than I wanted to before.
One of the things I remember from last year was that you can go off mentally and lose focus. A part of that is youth. How have you matured in that part of your game?
It's a problem a lot of players have. That is, keeping the focus throughout an entire match and an entire tournament. At the Challenger level and at the ATP level, you can't have that. Any dips will cost you the match. So, I feel like I've really improved on that. I'm trying to compete in every single point. It doesn't matter if it's 0/40 or whatever the score may be. I'm trying to compete hard. In the last couple of months I've really done that well and made a mental shift.
Speaking of which, the one set you lost this week was against Christopher Eubanks in the quarter-finals and you looked pretty out of it. What happened there and how did you turn that around?
I couldn't even finish my warm-up that day. I woke up and was not feeling well. I was pretty nauseous. I actually thought he was going to take advantage more, but I got it to a tie-break. And when I lost the first set I had to recuperate and get my thought process positive again. I thought I did well in the second set and he gave me a game with a couple of double faults. Right then and there, I went up another gear and took control of the match. That's something that is important to do if you want to become a top player.
And you came out with a coffee right before the match.
Me not feeling well definitely had a lot to do with the coffee. It was one of the only days in the last two years where I had a coffee and still couldn't get going in the first set. Starbucks should definitely start sponsoring me one of these days for sure.
After Lexington, we were talking about the South African connection. Kevin Anderson and Raven Klaasen are sending messages to you. Robbie Koenig too. With this core group of South Africans who are playing professionally - and Robbie as well - what does it mean to have another guy like you?
I think it's massive for the country. One thing we've been lacking as a country has been depth. We've only had Anderson at the top and also Raven in the doubles. A country is not a great tennis country with only one guy succeeding. So now, we're getting closer and closer and hopefully I'll be in all the main draws of the Grand Slams as well. I want to be right there competing with the top guys. I think it's great for the country and to have a support group behind me. It's also awesome that I can inspire the younger kids and upcoming juniors that they can also achieve that. That's what we're looking for.
What have they said to you over the past couple of years, to help you reach this point where you are now?
It's just advice on the tour and how to manage your schedule. I didn't have much experience with that stuff and playing a lot of Futures. Just a Challenger here and there. Going through their situations and how they eventually reached the top, translated well for me and I found some inspiration from that.
How do you celebrate a win like this?
I'll have a small celebration, because you need to feel good about the win and that you've achieved something. Then it's all focus again and getting used to the conditions in Fairfield. I need to mentally shift to the next one.